Privacy complaints related to Google's Street View

By EDRi · July 16, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Privacy International has complained to the Information Commissioner’s
Office (ICO) against Google’s Street View cars, which grab real photographs
of streets and people, that get loaded into Google Maps.

Street View distinctive cars have been recently spotted on London. The
system allows Google’s users to view 360 degree photographs of streetscapes
in towns and cities that have been catalogued by Google cameras.

Privacy International has expressed its reservations towards Google’s
practice in a letter sent to the company: “You may be aware that Privacy
International has stated, both privately to Google legal staff and to the
media, that we are concerned about a number of potential violations of
national law that this technology may create,” said the letter signed by
director Simon Davies.

Google had stated the company had implemented a technology that would blur
faces and vehicle number plates allowing at the same time high quality
images. Google’s senior privacy counsel Jane Horvath had answered to Davies
explaining that the face and number plate blurring technology had been in
place since May. “As with all such systems operating at this scale our
blurring technology is not perfect – we occasionally miss a face or license
plate, for example if they are partially covered, or at a difficult angle.
(…) However, we tested the technology thoroughly before launch and I am
confident that it finds and blurs the vast majority of identifiable faces
and license plates. For the few that we miss, the tools within the product
make it easy for users to report a face or license plate for extra blurring.
As always, users can still ask for their image to be removed from the
product entirely” said Horvarth.

In its letter, Privacy International was asking from Google to provide,
within seven days, technical specifications of the blurring technology used,
otherwise it would have to make a complaint to ICO. Having not received the
required information, the privacy group placed the complaint which was
confirmed by a spokeswoman for ICO: “Yes, we have received a complaint about
this and we are looking into it. We are contacting Google to get more
details of the scheme” said the spokeswoman to The Register.

This comes at a time when ICO asks for changes to European data protection
laws to keep up with changing technology. “European data protection law is
increasingly seen as out of date, bureaucratic and excessively prescriptive.
It is showing its age and is failing to meet new challenges to privacy, such
as the transfer of personal details across international borders and the
huge growth in personal information online. (…)”It is high time the law is
reviewed and updated for the modern world.” said Richard Thomas, UK ICO. The
ICO has hired RAND Corporation to review European data protection laws for
possible reforming.

Some recent rulings of the Court of Appeal might be to Google’s advantage.
“If the photographs had been taken to show the scene in a street by a
passer-by and later published as street scenes, that would be one thing, but
they were not taken as street scenes but were taken deliberately, in secret
and with a view to their subsequent publication,” said Lord Hope in one of
his ruling.

On the other hand, while reluctant for some time, giving in to privacy
advocates’ pressure, Google has added a link to its privacy policy from its
front page. Google home page contains now the word ‘privacy’ near the
bottom, beside the copyright notice. The word is a link to a page containing
all Google’s privacy information.

Google’s spycar revs up UK privacy fears (7.07.2008)

Privacy group protests about Street View, but Google says blurring protects
privacy (7.07.2008)

Google’s controversial Street View hits the UK (3.07.2008)

Google bows to pressure, adds privacy link to home page (7.07.2008)

Google, privacy and Street View (4.07.2008)

EDRIgram – Google StreetView might breach EU laws (21.05.2008)